Suzuki Soapu Opera: Will They or Won't They? Piech Faltering?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Will they or won’t they? That’s currently the talk amongst Germany’s auto execs. “They” are Volkswagen and Suzuki. And “will” refers to taking over Suzuki against its will. Yesterday, Der Spiegel, reported that Volkswagen is no longer barred from taking over Suzuki if Suzuki cancels its contract. Der Spiegel, of course, heard that from an interested party that telegraphs to Hamamatsu. “Be careful what you wish for.” Nonetheless, the rumor mill is at high revs. Let’s investigate.

Reuters called the usual bank analysts a wire service calls when nobody is talking.

“I think it is rather unlikely that Volkswagen will go for a hostile takeover of Suzuki,” said Christian Breitsprecher, and analyst at Macquarie Research. Commerzbank analyst Daniel Schwarz put it more bluntly: “VW simply won’t be able to take over all of Suzuki against his will.” Agreed.

A hostile takeover of a Japanese company is a rare incident. A hostile takeover by foreigners is as likely as me getting Japanese citizenship (theoretically possible, but in practicality …) A hostile takeover of a Japanese car company is as probable as hell being occupied by Antarctica. Suzuki probably has taken a mega dose of poison pills, and if push comes to shove, there will be a horde of white samurai that will protect Suzuki from being abducted by gaijin.

In the unlikely event of a successful takeover, a high-ranking contact at an (unrelated) Japanese carmaker put it even more melodramatically:

How could VW successfully take over Suzuki at this point? The entire company is against VW and has embarked on an unprecedented public takedown campaign against VW. No way this will go forward. The immune system of Suzuki will attack and reject the virus.”

Shingi rarenai! (Incredible.)

Indeed, it is hard to believe that the autocratic management style of Volkswagen would succeed in a passive-aggressive environment called Hamamatsu. In his early days at the helm of Volkswagen, Piech often complained about the “Lehmschicht” , the layer of clay he was unable to dig through at Volkswagen, something that was achieved only decades later, when all the clay was retired. In Hamamatsu, he would face a clay mountain. Just imagine the misunderstandings and things that get lost in translation …

Handy Crib Sheet


“Excuse me?”

“Mouichido itte kuremasuka.”

“Can you say that again?”

Mou sukoshi yukkuri itte onegaishimasu.”

“Please say that again a little more slowly”

“Kaite kudasai.”

“Write it down please!”


“I don’t understand.”

“Ah so.”

“Ach so.”

Meanwhile in Germany, nasty rumors are spreading that Ferdinand Piech, at 74 a teenager compared to the 84 year old Osamu Suzuki, could be faltering. Journalists invited to Volkswagen’s pre-Frankfurt Motor Show press bash, remarked that Piech looked distraught, if not disoriented.

The Financial Times is leading the charge here:

“After a difficult few days for the German carmaking group that saw Mr Piëch’s will thwarted on two fronts – its abortive alliance with Suzuki, and VW’s planned merger with Porsche – he was at an uncharacteristic loss for words. Shielded by his wife Ursula, he deflected most questions with soft, near-monosyllabic responses.”

Piech usually doesn’t say much, but the short remarks coming from his thinning lips usually are high-explosive grenades. He is famous for his soft spoken, but sharp digs. When he is under pressure, he gets even more quiet.

In Volkswagen circles, there sometimes was the remark that the 84 year old Suzuki possibly could require a successor soon, who might be less tough than the Old Man. Let’s hope the nasty journos have it wrong and it’s not Piech who requires a successor.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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3 of 14 comments
  • Tstag Tstag on Sep 19, 2011

    If VW want this, then they will have it. First they will up their stake, then gradually wait until more and more investors fall by the way side. But do they really want Suzuki and all it's baggage? Why not just buy Mazda or Mitsubishi or both?

    • Unhittable curveball Unhittable curveball on Sep 19, 2011

      I think Mazda will eventually get together with Toyota --Hiroshima's upcoming hybrid vehicles will feature the HSD system from Toyota City; they are also both related to the Sumitomo-Mitsui keiretsu, although Toyota is so big it's like a keiretsu all by itself.

  • Goacom Goacom on Sep 20, 2011

    Suzuki even hung tough when it was dealing with the Government of India which was initially of joint venture between Suzuki and the Government. After a decade or so in the alliance, Suzuki threatened to walk out until it was given majority control over the operations. In the end, the govt. relented.

  • IBx1 Everyone in the working class (if you’re not in the obscenely wealthy capital class and you perform work for money you’re working class) should unionize.
  • Jrhurren Legend
  • Ltcmgm78 Imagine the feeling of fulfillment he must have when he looks upon all the improvements to the Corvette over time!
  • ToolGuy "The car is the eye in my head and I have never spared money on it, no less, it is not new and is over 30 years old."• Translation please?(Theories: written by AI; written by an engineer lol)
  • Ltcmgm78 It depends on whether or not the union is a help or a hindrance to the manufacturer and workers. A union isn't needed if the manufacturer takes care of its workers.